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The Eastern Conference Finals will get the storybook ending it deserves when the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics face off in a winner-take-all Game 7 Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
Either Boston's aging core will deliver an improbable trip to the NBA Finals in what will could be its final season together, or LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will complete a stunning reversal after dropping three straight games to the Celtics in the middle of the series.
The winner will fly to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder Tuesday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant and OKC clinched their first trip to the Finals by besting the San Antonio Spurs over six games in the Western Conference Finals.
For the second playoff series in a row, the Heat were written off after falling behind to their opponents. When the Indiana Pacers took a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Miami responded with three straight resounding wins to close out the series. James' 45-point performance in Game 6 of the conference finals similarly disproved the notion that the Heat's goose was cooked.
Now the Heat have a chance to book their second straight NBA Finals trip in front of what should be a raucous home crowd. While James probably won't be able to duplicate his Game 6 masterpiece ("One of the best this league has ever seen," Bosh said of it), he said Friday, "I won't regret Game 7."
In NBA history, 110 playoff series have lasted seven games. The home team has won 88 of those Game 7s. "We fought and earned the right to have this on our home court," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We don't take that for granted and we don't assume that that will take care of anything. We're going to have to play, compete at the same urgency level we played last night. And we'll also have to play well and probably have to beat them when they're at their best."
Lost in the noise surrounding James' performance in Game 6 has been the return of Bosh, and a change in the Heat's defense that worked brilliantly in Boston. Miami aggressively switched assignments whenever Boston attempted to run a screen, leading to fewer uncontested shots, and thus a quiet night from Boston's key offensive cogs, especially Kevin Garnett. He averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds in Games 1-5, but put up just 12 and 5 in Game 6.
While the new defense limited Garnett's damage on offense, Bosh helped prevent Garnett from being disruptive on defense. "Garnett has been doing a great job of just roaming around and messing up our offense," Bosh told The Miami Herald Thursday night. "I have to do my best to keep him honest." Bosh's ability to hit long jump shots allowed him to pull Garnett out of the painted area, freeing up space for James and Wade in Game 6.
According to TiqIQ.com, tickets for Saturday's Game 7 are the most expensive for any game in the playoffs thus far, surpassing Game 4 of the second-round Lakers-Thunder series. The average price for a Game 7 ticket is $651.45, up 20 percent since the beginning of Game 6. The most expensive seat available, a front row courtside seat, is going for over $15,000.
Game 7 tips off at 8:30 Saturday night.